Three generations of women–mothers and daughters–are the core characters in Sheltering Rain; we join the first of them in 1953, in Hong Kong, where young Joy and her best friend Stella are waiting to listen to the coronation ceremony of Elizabeth II. On that same day, Joy meets a young man, a naval officer, named Edward Ballantyne, and before the day is out, the two have pledged themselves to one another.
Leaping forward to 1997, in Ireland, we first meet Sabine Ballantyne, Joy and Edward’s granddaughter, aged sixteen and eager to put distance between herself and her mother Kate. We experience both Kate and the grandparents through Sabine’s eyes, as the teenager flails against her mother’s choices, while also finding her grandparents’ rules and regulations unbearable. She reaches out to the men who work with the horses, and soon finds solace in riding.
The story unfolds slowly, moving back and forth through time, until we begin to see how the secrets, betrayals, and pain of the past have affected each of them. Will they find a way to work through their differences? How will discovering what was hidden in the past help them in the present?
The author brings the reader right into the Irish countryside, into the pubs, and shows us the emotional terrain of the characters’ lives in very satisfying ways.
At one point or another, I found each of the characters frustrating. I liked that we began with Joy, as meeting her first through Sabine’s eyes would have made her unlikable. And understanding Sabine from her own perspective made it possible to overlook her rudeness and lashing out when we saw her through Kate’s eyes. However, I found it difficult to like Sabine, even understanding her point of view. Her self-absorption is probably typical for someone her age, but she seemed to go out of her way to be cruel to her mother.
Kate is the character in the middle, in a sense, sandwiched between a disapproving mother and a rebellious daughter. But as she begins to search through her past mistakes and learn from them, we see hope for them all. In the end, the climactic events bring closure and a sense of connection. 4.0 stars.